Reprinted with permission
“The kid is good!”
For Tommy Coniglio, at the time a 21-year-old “bar singer” at a Wildwood restaurant, the words were like a lightning strike.
“The kid is good” had spilled from the lips of Tommy’s musical idol, Philadelphia music royalty, Bobby Rydell.
Five years ago, Bobby and his wife, Linda Hoffman, were having dinner at Joey M’s La Piazza Cucina in Wildwood.
Owner Joey Montello, a Sinatra-style singer, show producer and talent manager himself, was at the table with his long-time friends. Coming from the restaurant’s courtyard came a solo voice, singing the 1960s blockbuster, “Lightning Strikes.”
As the story goes, Rydell said, “Who the hell is that? He’s better than Lou Christie.” Christie was the original recording artist.
Joey led Bobby and Linda out to the courtyard, where a tall, lean, dark-haired singer belted out the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons classic, “Sherry.”
“The kid is good,” Bobby told Joey and Linda. The words launched a mentorship that became a friendship that became a collaboration. And now, Tommy Coniglio – whose stage name is “Tommy C” is a singing embodiment of Bobby Rydell – headlined as the Voice of Tribute.
“I idolized Bobby, the performer,” says Tommy. “I also idolized Bobby, the man, who despite his headline entertainer stardom, never forgot his humble South Philly and South Jersey roots.”
“In Tommy,” Linda, Bobby’s widow told me, “Bobby’s music has come alive again. Now, a younger generation can experience his music, while Bobby’s loyal and devoted older fans can jump up, sing along and dance.”
Bobby, the beloved 1960s teen idol, who rose to international stardom, could capture an audience with his first step onto any stage. Bobby died at age 79, on April 5, 2022, due to complications from pneumonia. In recent years, Linda, who is a nurse by profession and became her husband’s loving caregiver, watched him courageously struggle with health issues that had compounded. He survived nearly a decade after a celebrated liver and kidney double-organ transplant, in July 2012.
“He sang, with nearly the last breath that was in him, “ Linda said. “It’s who he was!”
“My dad showed us the true meaning of strength, and being a family man,” said Jen Ridarelli Dulin, Bobby’s daughter.
“His recording and performing career put him on the road a lot when my brother and I were little,” Jen told me in a phone call. “But when he came home to us and our mother, Camille who we lost many years ago, we were the Ridarellis. Rydell was his stage name. Still, Bobby Rydell, the star, was a proud Dad, always encouraging us. He adored his five grandchildren and inspired them too with his love.”
Bobby Rydell’s inspiration became a career game-changer for Tommy Coniglio, whose Jersey roots are in Freehold.
Tommy sharpened his vocals and stage performance since first meeting Bobby, five years ago. Singing from the much-loved Rydell songbook, Tommy was lining up gigs in between his “day job.”
Tommy is a firefighter in South Brunswick, N.J. He also maintains his EMT certification. Even though Tommy is dedicated to this selfless work of a first responder, if you could listen to his heart,
I imagine hearing the downbeat to “Wild One,” another Rydell classic. Just like with Bobby, music is in Tommy’s blood.
The “Bobby Rydell magic” gave Joey Montello an idea, in December 2021. Joey is now Tommy’s manager. If Bobby was up to it, Joey thought he might be game to record a duet with Tommy, produced into a music video. Bobby was growing weaker physically, but the strength in his voice was “unmistakably Bobby Rydell not missing a beat.”
The first song would be a Rydell chart-topper “Sway.” It’s a Latin-style dance number released originally in 1960 and re-released in 1976 in a disco version. The updated remix – released in 2022 –would lean heavily into a tango vibe and be produced as a duet.
Rehearsals? Joey says Bobby and Tommy rehearsed in the car driving to the production studio. The plan was to lay the audio track first, then do a video recording.
“Bobby nailed the audio, “says Joey.
“Tommy was spot on too, recording the audio with the video. Ultimately, Bobby was just too sick to do the video, so we took old recordings of Bobby on stage and synced his new audio track, with the older performance clips. Bobby’s delivery was so consistent over the years, even weeks before his death, the match was perfect.”
The “Sway” duet, “Bobby Rydell presents Tommy C” streams on all platforms. Be prepared to dance.
On a recent June Saturday night at Joey M’s La Piazza Cucina in Wildwood, Tommy C entertained the restaurant crowd, holding his mic close, closing his eyes, and reaching for the high notes of “Wildwood Days.”
“Oh baby, every day’s, a hol-i-day!. Every night is a Saturday night.”
Establishing the Bobby Rydell Foundation, Linda and Bobby’s family have been shaping “legacy projects” to celebrate the spirit of Bobby’s contributions to music and medicine.
“Bobby loved helping music students. So, our hope is to provide music performance scholarships, “Linda said. “Bobby also was grateful to the Gift of Life program which provided the organs for his liver and kidney transplant, in 2012. When anyone with Gift of Life asked him to sing at a fundraiser, he’d put on his jacket, grab the mic and belt out Wild One. We’d like funds raised through the Foundation to contribute to that life-saving work too.”
Tommy C has been named the spokesperson for the Foundation and he offered me a “breaking news” headline for Bobby’s fans.
The Foundation has commissioned Zenos Frudakis, a Glenside, Montgomery County sculptor, to create a seven-foot statue of Bobby, to be mounted on a pedestal and placed at the gateway to Wildwood’s Fox Park.
With emotion filling her voice, Linda told me the statue would be Bobby’s final resting place. She will inter his ashes in a heart which will become part of the statue.
“We thought this would be a fitting place for Bobby to “rest” because he loved Wildwood and Wildwood loved him,” she said. “His devoted fans will be able to come and pay their respects.”
Maybe they would even sing “Volare” to him.
I asked Bobby’s daughter, Jen, to share the wisdom she treasures as her father’s legacy. She didn’t hesitate.
“Dad had compassion. He was endearing. He believed in reaching for the stars. He believed anything was possible if you could do what you love.”
Bobby Rydell loved singing.
The Rydell legacy to us, his fans, are those Wildwood days alive again, treasured in our minds and hearts like a perfect summer night.
This article originally appeared in Philadelphia RowHome magazine. Reprinted with permission. Subscribe at gohomephilly.com